By Michael Hernandez
VENTURA—Superior Court Judge Jeffery G. Bennett set Wayne Fishback free today—giving him one week (till Friday, March 20) to comply with a Dec. 18 court order to produce a clean closure plan signed by a qualified civil engineer and delivered to Ventura County’s Environmental Health Division Office. Failure to do so would result in a continuation of the “civil contempt” court order that resulted in his being in jail for six days. The release of Fishback came after Judge Bennett in Court Room 21 asked Fishback, “Are you prepared to comply with the court order?”
Today’s two-hour court hearing featured an unexpected recess in order to get a jail report (on Wayne Fishback’s health condition) from Ventura County Deputy Cyrus Zedeh after Fishback told the judge that he was on a jail food strike.
Wayne Fishback on jail food strike; protesting “great Injustice”
Wayne Fishback said he was protesting a “great injustice” and has been on a six-day jail food strike: “I have been in solitary confinement and all my requests including visitor rights have been ignored,” said Fishback who stated that he has been asking for a public defender “now that he is in jail” and even requested a haircut. “This is punitive, you can torture me and you can put me on life support if necessary,” said Fishback who stated that his health was being monitored and that he had received some medical treatments but “all other requests have been ignored…Excuse my voice, I have had no liquids for six days.”
Fishback stated that he had ate three oranges which he “couldn’t resist” and also complained that he had been denied visitors and that “my children did not know what happened to me” since he had been denied all contact with the outside world (no phone) and that he had unsuccessfully tried to get medical personnel to understand that his medical records were included in his personal belongings.
In Deputy Zedeh’s report to the judge after the court recess, the deputy stated: “At some point, Mr. Fishback decided to go on a hunger strike. We alerted medical and psychiatric staff to provide him additional services. He was seen six times (by medical professionals). He was receiving meal trays but he was leaving them untouched. He did tell us that he would not resist or be combative to medical treatment.”
Fishback: “I have no financial means to achieve this clean closure report”
“I have no financial means to achieve this clean closure,” said Fishback earlier in the morning hearing. “You have all my tax returns, and my making millions of dollars is greatly overstated. But now I have lost home…gone homeless. We have been punished for 15 years to force me to do this. I have no possibility to achieve this. You are the law I am finished now.”
Earlier in the morning hearing, when asked if he would comply with the court order, Fishback said he was “not financially able to do so.” In response, San Francisco attorney David Cook, hired by Ventura County to assist with compliance, said charges for the clean closure plan had been dropped from $10,000 to $3,500. Fishback’s responded by saying that he estimated costs to rise to $50,000 after an environmental report, grading and inspection plans, geologic and engineering reports. “I’m living off Social Security,” he said.
Meanwhile, David Cook argued that Fishback should remain in his jail cell until the clean closure plan was filed with the County. “He can do this from his jail cell,” said Cook. “We have not seen any movement from Fishback. He has to grow up and comply with the law. It is his obligation to remove, re-locate (material) and this plan needs to be executed by a licensed civil engineer.”
“From our point of view, we have not reached the level of futility. He has made three million dollars and up to five million dollars. He has not produced bank statements but only tax returns which are useless.”
Fishback contested the claim by Cook that he had “more than enough money” by stating that the experts that would work with him would do so pro-bono. He also contested that his ranch property presented a risk to homes below his Simi Valley ranch property. “My property is not a disaster waiting to happen.”
“We are going backwards (in this case) but we do want to relieve the burden of the County for him staying in jail,” said Cook who asked Judge Bennet after the court recess, if he would allow Charles Genkel, Ventura County Deputy Director of the Environmental Health Division to present a case to keep Fishback in jail. Cook’s request was denied.
Assisting David Cook was County Counsel Eric Walts. Fishback had no legal counsel.
Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He has worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected]
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